Information in Plant Life and Development: A Biosemiotic Approach

  • Peter W. Barlow School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol
Keywords: autoreproduction, development, information and communication, L-systems, plant meristems


Plant cells, organs and organisms develop via a succession of transformations of their state mediated by the prevailing systems of metabolism and morphology. These transformations are facilitated by the perception of, and response to signs and signals generated either from within, or received from an external source – the abiotic environment, for example. The perception of signs and their subsequent transformation and integration in the form of plant-specific information, may depend upon a channel which has features of a ‘nervous’ system and which employs some of the molecular components and organ-elles familiar in animals. Developmental transformations can also be described in symbolic form by means of L-system algorithms (after A. Lindenmayer) whose elements have coun-terparts corresponding to the boundaries of cells and multicellular societies. The cell maps resulting from these algorithms enable retrospective inferences and future predictions about the behaviour of the cellular systems con-cerned. L-systems therefore offer a means of encapsulating the elements of the ‘living algorithms’ which may be supposed to be already embedded within an organism and which are respon-sive to signs which are an integral part of the already formed construction. Another class of sign system in plants is sug-gested as being based on gradients of biochemical agents, or morphogens, which promote cell determination and hence lead to distinctive patterns of tissue differentiation.